When I was coming up to 60 I started to worry seriously about money. I am a solo ager who had chosen to work between my homeland, South Africa, and France. I couldn’t look forward to a comfortable retirement in either and in any event I didn’t feel like retiring. Oh happy day when I searched the Internet and came across 2Young 2 Retire, saw a telephone number, dialed and got through to Howard Stone, a precursor who co-founded his ground-breaking organization in 2002. Never in my wildest dreams did I suspect that I had taken the first step on an extraordinary adventure that is still unfolding 12 years later.
This adventure totally changed my life and in the process I have found purpose and passion and friends around the world; I have visited 25 countries on a quest to learn from others living through this unprecedented demographic phenomenon that is our extended longevity.
That call with Howard Stone led me to Saint Petersburg, Florida, to attend the first Positive Ageing Conference in the USA. It was a magical experience. Apart from meeting my 2Young2Retire “buddies” like Dieter Zwicky, Dorian Mintzer, Kim Kirmmese Toth, Barbara Atkins and Karen Greer in real life, I went on to meet Meg Newhouse and Judy Goggin from the Life Planning Network, prime movers in the creation of the conference, plus Rick Moody, and so many more. I listened with fascination to Gene Cohen’s inspiring talk about the mature mind and internalized the message that we can play destiny versus lifestyle choices and lengthen or shorten our lives by up to 10 years. I basked in the glow of the pioneering spirit and enjoyed the generous sharing of resources.
Meaningful Work, Paid or Unpaid
My highlight was Jan Hively’s workshop “Meaningful Work, Paid or Unpaid Through the Last Breath”! What a title, what an answer to my retirement conundrum.
I remember waiting my turn to hand her my card and say my bit: “I live in Paris and run an occupational health organization,” I told her, “and if you ever come my way, I’ll arrange for you to talk to our occupational health doctors.” Nine months later I received a message – “if your offer is still open I’d love to visit you in Paris.” Jan was flying to speak for the Körber Foundation in Hamburg. She came on to Paris and gave a talk to our federation of occupational organizations.
Jan and I really bonded on this visit. She shared a poem by a Hopi Indian leader all about the role of elders facing change, saying that “we are the ones we have been waiting for.” This line has stuck with me. I made copious notes of what I was learning from this internationally known proponent of positive, active ageing who earned her doctorate at age 67 on a study of productive ageing in rural Minnesota. She showed that the priority values for older adults were self-determination, self-sufficiency and community participation.
I opened a file on my computer “What Jan’s teaching me”. I’ve just dipped into it now and share a few of the notes:
- Focus on strengths.
- Consider life as a continuum, an ongoing and unique experience and never get upset with what it throws at you. We are there to field the ball and see how far we can throw it back and to what effect!
- Read Lars Tornstam’s book Gerotranscendence: A Developmental Theory of Positive Aging, Eric Erikson’s The Life Cycle Completed and Abraham Maslow’s final work published after his death on Transcendence.
- Know that adults want meaningful work, flexible work, social interaction, a healthy lifestyle and to keep learning and growing.
We Are the Ones …
Jan came back to Paris in 2009, met all our friends in our 2Young2Retire Europe group and attended the IAGG conference. More than 6,000 delegates! “I feel totally out of it. The older adults who are present are not being heard.” she said. I reminded her of her favorite Hopi Indian poem and said, “Well, if we are the ones we’ve been waiting for, let’s do something about it.” We talked it through, and developed a project called “We are the ones”.
Jan left Paris to meet with Pat Munro of the World Café Europe in Munich and the three of us started working together virtually, Jan on Cape Cod, Pat in Munich and me in Paris. The result was the European Voices for Active Ageing Project in 2012, the European Year of Active Ageing and Intergenerational Solidarity. We listened to the voices of older adults in Bilbao, Berlin, Prague, Bologna, London and Strasbourg, and heard the same story everywhere – “We want to stay active and make worthwhile contributions to our communities.”
That’s the background for the creation of the Pass It On network that we first launched at the Encore.org conference in February 2013 in San Francisco, and then in Paris in November 2013 when the website was ready.
I have the joy, pleasure and privilege of having Jan as my friend, my mentor and my partner in this extraordinary adventure. What a role model!